The United States produces about 35% of the world’s coal, more than any other country, and has more than 250 billion tons of recoverable coal, enough to last for hundreds of years.
Coal is essential, as it is used to generate more than half of all the electricity produced in the U.S. It’s also used as a basic energy source in many industries, including steel, as well as cement and paper. It’s also used as a heating fuel. Coal is good for the economy too as coal production provides thousands of jobs in exploration, mining, the supply of products and services, transportation and a whole host of other support jobs.
Coal is available as there is enough to last over 250 years. Many U.S. coalbeds are close to the earth’s surface and modern mining methods allows easy reach of most of our coal reserves.
Greater use of coal will help the U.S. become more self sufficient in energy. In addition to its use as a solid fuel, coal can be converted to gas to replace expensive imported fuels. Consumers also benefit because coal is an economical fuel. With expanded clean coal use, coal can help solve our energy problems. Like gas and oil, coal is a fossil fuel.
Coal was formed by vegetation growing in swamps which covered many parts of America about 300 million years ago. The vegetation absorbed and stored the sun’s energy. Peat deposits were built up as vast amounts of vegetation died and accumulated at the bottom of the swamps to form spongy brown materials. Geological forces buried the peat deep under the surface of the earth. There the layers of peat were further compacted by pressure and heat. The coal was formed from the compressed peat after millions of years under the earth’s surface. The greater the heat and pressure, the harder the coal.
There are four major types of coal. Coal is classified by hardness and the harder the coal, the less moisture it contains and the more efficient it is as fuel. Lignite (softest coal) contains a lot of moisture. It’s brownish black and crumbles easily. It’s mainly used at electricity generating plants. Bituminous (medium hard coal) contains very little moisture and is high heat value. It’s used to generate electricity and to make coke use in the steel industry. Sub-bituminous (medium soft coal) has much less moisture than lignite and is used mostly to produce steam for electricity generation. Anthracite (hardest coal) has a very high heat value burning slowly and making a good home heating fuel.
There are four major uses of coal in the U.S. Electric power generating plants burn coal to make steam. The steam turns turbines which generate electricity. Electric utility companies use about 90% of coal mined in the U.S. Coal is also used for industry, such as concrete and paper, and ingredients of coal, such as methanol and ethylene are used in making plastics, tires, synthetic fibers, fertilizers, and medicines. Coal is also used for making steel. It is baked in hot furnaces to make coke, which is used to smelt iron ore in the steelmaking process. The carbon in coal gives steel the strength and versatility for products such as bridges, buildings, and automobiles. Coal is also exported to Western Europe, Canada, and Japan.
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